John Carruthers Beattie

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21 November 1866
Waterbeck, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
10 September 1946
Capetown, South Africa

John Carruthers Beattie graduated from Edinburgh University and studied at Munich, Vienna, Berlin and Glasgow. He became Professor of Applied Mathematics and Experimental Physics at the University of Cape Town and was later Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University. He was knighted in 1920.


Carruthers Beattie's father was Thomas Beattie (born about 1830 in Half Morton, Dumfriesshire Scotland) who was a Grocer. His mother was Elspeth Beattie (born in St Mungo, Dumfriesshire about 1834).

Carruthers Beattie attended St John's Boarding School in Workington for seven years, then spent a year at Moray House in Edinburgh before beginning his university education. He took the Preliminary Examinations of the Educational Institute of Scotland, passing English, History, Geography, Latin, Arithmetic, Algebra, Euclid I II III, Mechanics, Logic, and Natural Philosophy. He was an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh matriculating in October 1885. He studied Chemistry with Crum Brown, Botany with J B Balfour, Natural Philosophy with Tait, and Mathematics with Chrystal. He then studied Physics at Munich, Vienna, Berlin and Glasgow, having Lord Kelvin as an advisor. He was awarded the degree of D.Sc. from the University of Edinburgh in 1896 for his thesis The Behaviour of Bismuth Plates in a Steady Magnetic Field.

In 1897 Beattie went to South Africa on being appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics and Experimental Physics at the University of Cape Town. He married Elizabeth Paton in 1898. He continued to work for the University of Cape Town for the rest of his career, being made Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Cape Town in 1917. He was knighted in 1920.

On 2 July 1927 Beattie was awarded an honorary LL.D. by the University of Edinburgh. The report of the occasion, which Beattie did not attend in person, is as follows:-
Sir John Carruthers Beattie, F.R.S.E., Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Cape Town (in absentia.)

Sir Carruthers Beattie is an alumnus and Doctor of Science of Edinburgh, who went to Cape Town as Professor of Physics thirty years ago, and soon traversed the heart of the African continent in the course of a magnetic survey. The reputation he made for himself as Professor led to his selection as Principal of the University of Cape Town, when that institution, largely his handiwork, was established in 1918. When its new buildings are completed within a year or two, there will be fulfilled the vision of Cecil Rhodes, who dreamt of a great South African University rising on the slopes of Table Mountain, and actually selected and gifted a site in this magnificent situation. This temple of learning will be a lasting memorial both of the great empire-builder who first conceived the idea, and of the Vice-Chancellor whose executive ability and unflagging exertions have brought it into being. Sir Carruthers's great services to the Dominion have been recognised by the Knighthood conferred upon him, and his alma mater is proud to laureate a son whose name is written so large in the academic history of South Africa; her only regret is that distance and pressure of affairs prevent his presence at today's ceremony.
Beattie was a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, joining in November 1891. He was also a member of the South African Philosophical Society and was honoured by that Society by being elected President for session 1905-6.

John Carruthers Beattie was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 1 March 1897, his proposers being Sir W Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Peter Guthrie Tait, Alexander Crum Brown, Cargill Gilston Knott.

An obituary, written by Lawrence Crawford, appears in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1947.
We give a version of this obituary at THIS LINK.

References (show)

  1. L Crawford, Sir John Carruthers Beattie, Kt., D.Sc., LL.D., Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1947, 12-13.
  2. Biographical Index of Staff and Alumni (University of Edinburgh).
  3. Graduates in Arts, 1884-1925 (University of Edinburgh).
  4. Graduates, 1859-88 (University of Edinburgh).
  5. Graduates in Arts (University of Edinburgh).

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Carruthers Beattie:

  1. Obituary: RSE

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2007